August 16, 2005

Behold the Power of Markets

Dear God! It's Carrot Top! Run! RUN!

WANT A MOUSE PAD? -- In a mad rush to secure a limited number of four-year-old iBook computers, stampeding consumers in Richmond, Va., let nothing get in their way this morning -- particularly children and the elderly.

WHEN THE RAPTURE COMES, I hope I'm not in Richmond.

I mean, if people are going to run riot for the chance to purchase $50 laptop computers, I'd hate to be in town when something really serious happens. Indeed, according to the Associated Press, the consumers' laptop frenzy was so intense that people were thrown to the ground, beaten with a folding chair and worse.

Here's what the Associated Press wrote about the horror:

An estimated 5,500 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents. New iBooks cost between $999 and $1,299.

Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some already had been waiting since 1:30 a.m. When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene.

People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Seventeen people suffered minor injuries, with four requiring hospital treatment, Henrico County Battalion Chief Steve Wood said. There were no arrests and the iBooks sold out by 1 p.m.

As readers know, today's rampage was in no way unique. There have been other incidents involving stampedes at commercial locales, e.g. during pre-Christmas shopping on "Black Friday."

Still, I'm sure that folks in Richmond will be asking a lot of questions in the wake of this affair. Leaving aside minor queries such as, "What's happened to our sense of community?" and "Dear God, 17 people got hurt over laptop computers?", Richmond residents may question why the sale was handled in the manner it was.

After all, the Henrico County authorities could have easily cleared more than the $50,000 they grossed from today's sale. That's evident in the disconnect between how many people showed up and how many computers they had on hand. If the price had been increased to $75, they probably would have still sold all of the machines, and people might even have jumped at the chance to buy at $100, $125 or $150. Even if the authorities had fallen short of equilibrium, they could have easily disposed of the excess through selling cheaply to charities or something. But by establishing an incredibly low fixed price for a scarce good, the authorities inevitably created an artificial shortage for the laptops.

It also might have helped if they'd handed out vouchers or something as people arrived at the distribution point. But that is a discussion for those closer to the incident. For more on this -- including a photo slideshow of the day's events -- visit the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 16, 2005 09:11 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I can't help wondering if this behavior could be tied in part to the fact that these were Apple computers being sold off. I can't imagine mature, sophisticated Windows users acting this way!!

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at August 17, 2005 09:12 AM

I can't help wondering if this behavior could be tied in part to the fact that these were Apple computers being sold off. I can't imagine mature, sophisticated Windows users acting this way!!

Posted by: Swammi in Solon at August 17, 2005 09:12 AM

Perhaps that has a lot to do with it. As any Mac Zealot knows, Apples only get better with age. ;-) (Except the 2001 iBooks in question, which were afflicted with numerous hardware problems, specifically faulty logic boards. Ha ha!)

Posted by: Matthew S. Schwartz at August 18, 2005 10:32 AM

Good to have you back, Ben. ;]

Posted by: Ironbear at August 19, 2005 06:40 AM